Justin Timberlake and Ciara Video - Consensual Slavery or Just Plain Offensive?

8 years ago

Not like everyone else, I wasn't anticipating Justin Timberlake's 2003 album, Justified. I was too old to appreciate the latest crop of boy bands and was not a huge fan of R&B or whatever you want to call it. However, when I saw his first video, "Like I Love You" I was impressed. The song was catchy, I loved the choreography but most importantly, I loved the fact that his love interest was a black woman.

Model Shakara Ledard who has also appeared in a number of other videos, played the girl whom Justin was trying to impress. I liked the fact that Shakara, whom I instantly recognized from numerous print ads and commercials, was sexy and seemed self-assured - not like the stereotypical video vixens whose tired weaves and pockmarked, cellulite-laden thighs that,despite their physical attractiveness, always seemed tired and used....and 'too realistic' for the fantasy world of music videos. At that time I silently applauded Timberlake for taking the risk in casting a black girl when he could have easily hired a white blond, which to me, would be way more palatable for the masses.

Years went by and my subtle admiration for Timberlake slowly faded. There was the notorious Super Bowl /Janet Jackson fiasco where an apparent 'wardrobe malfunction' caused Timberlake to symbolically throw Jackson under the bus. But to be fair, I thought that the whole thing was staged, as Jackson has used the suggestion of her kinky sex preferences as part of her marketing strategy for the past decade, but the way how Timberlake distanced himself from the sister of his idol, Michael Jackson, didn't sit too well.

Jackson was vilified as the slut who destroyed the retinas of the millions of kids who were watching the halftime show by exposing her sagging brown titty and odd (and from what it looked like, quite painful) nipple clamp. Timberlake came off as an innocent, naive white boy who barely escaped delving into the murky depths of black, animalistic and inappropriate sexual behavior. Poor white boy. Don't you know he has a promising career? People asked, wagging their finger at the older, African-American singer, dressed in this tacky (which seems to be a Jackson family trait) pseudo- S&M getup, whom appeared to be desperately trying to stop the downward spiral of her music career. 

Fast forward to 2009. Timberlake, who received his 'Ghetto Pass' a couple of years prior, appears in a video with Ciara. In the video for "Love Sex Magic" viewers were offended by Timberlake, who pulls at a chain that is wrapped around Ciara's neck. The video provides images of the seemingly sexual objectification of Ciara's body, one in which Timberlake uses as a prop - like a piece of furniture. From Soulbounce:

The outcry against his actions from those of us in the indignant minority was quickly overshadowed by an increase in album sales, multiple music awards and an increase in his Pop stardom miming Black music and culture. Instead of subjecting his next project with trepidation--let alone dismissal--nearly every "urban" club, radio station and music channel on the planet had the masses bumping to a song with a hook that's about shackles, whipping and slavery.

The Cruel Secretary's Andrea Plaid, a frequent writer on sexuality and race, decided to investigate this matter a bit further. She discussed BDSM and race play in relation to the video, arguing in part that playing out certain sexual roles in the bedroom can be enjoyable for some:

Unfortunately, this argument gets whipped out among people of color when a PoC steps out of sexual line of "acceptable" sex practices and partners, especially in a public space, like Ciara did in her "Love Sex Magic" video.

 She acknowledges that for black folks, sexual objectification conjures up the legacy of slavery, where women were routinely objectified by their white slave masters. Since that legacy has traveled down through out generations, images are usually perceived as offensive and add to the prevailing stereotypes that still exist in society.

What happened in, say, American slavery of Africans isn’t the same thing happening when Justin Timberlake, an individual white man, is pulling on Ciara’s, an individual Black woman’s, dog chain. The Black folks who got hauled over during that slave trade didn’t give white folks permission to put us in chains and drag us to the “New World." Ciara and Timberlake negotiated—again, the core BDSM idea of consent--that particular part of the video. He’s also not standing as a proxy for all white men and their enslaving fantasies no more than she is a stand-in for all Black women wanting to be on a leash. Nor is either one giving people permission to assume that all men can and will go out and do this to all Black women. Every thought need not be acted upon. And, of course, not every word means the same thing in every situation.

For a more detailed description of race play, head on over to sex blogger The Perverted Negress, who has a conversation with Plaid over the video.

While Diary of an Anxious Black Woman believes that what people do in the privacy of their bedroom is no one's business, she does think that publicized images might be taking it a bit far:

If you're white and you want to enslave somebody black because it gets you off (and there is consent), or if you're black and you want to be enslaved for the same reason (and again, there is consent), or if you want to do some role reversal, whatever! But, outside of the little BDSM role play thing, in mainstream pop acts, these bodies get read in the most conventional sense. More importantly, in mainstream arenas, certain bodies get penalized more than others. These realities, at least to me, are some reasons why I can't "fantasize" some kind of "race play" where I'm in the subordinate position in an interracial relationship. I live that reality all the time!

Now, to be fair, this was not a video for Timberlake but for Ciara's latest single. Timberlake was simply invited to be in it, and most likely was not responsible for the choreography. Also, Ciara, who is regarded as a cross between the late singer Allyiah and Janet Jackson, is known for her strong and sexually aggressive demeanor. Not a great singer, she is a dancer and previous videos and live appearances eerily mirror Jackson's choreography in her "Control" days. It is safe to say that the singer knew well in advance how this video would look and because controversy sells, why not? Times are tough in the music industry.

But should Timberlake, with his Ghetto Pass and all, be more sensitive to these matters? What do you think?

For a myriad of diverse comments, please head on over to Racialicous.

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